Safari 4 Beta Released: The Need for Speed

Apple has upped the ante in the browser wars with the release of Safari 4 beta.

The new version of Safari, built on top of Apple’s open source Webkit code comes with a range of new features, but it’s speed where it excels.

Apple claims that its new JavaScript engine in Safari runs JavaScript 4.2 times faster than Safari 3, and up to 30 times faster than IE 7. Javascript engines probably don’t mean a lot to most people, but the end results are just as impressive; Apple claims Safari 4 is three times as fast as Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 3 in loading pages.

In practice, the difference isn’t quite as great as three times, but it is clearly quicker from the moment you first load a page. Across a number of sites, the average load speed for Safari was 66% to 100% (1.66-2x) quicker than Firefox 3 on my MacPro. I can’t compare it to the last version, but feels quicker across a range of sites (I use Safari for most browsing). Either way, it’s fast.

The new version also comes with a range of new features that make the browser highly appealing. Safari’s developer tools have had a big upgrade which takes them further into Firebug territory, but with a lot more polish and a range of extras, such as the ability to browse databases and run SQL queries.

For Safari users on Windows, Apple has abandoned the default chrome look taken from Macs and now presents itself as a normal looking Windows app. Not a huge change, but one that makes Safari less foreign for Windows users who are trying it out.

Safari now supports coverflow, allowing users who like to use a lot of tabs to browse through what they have open, and also previously browsed sites. New feature Top Sites aggregates the sites you most regularly browse to in an appealing 3D interface.

The list of changes and new features is too long, but you can read all 150 of them here.

Getting people to change browsers isn’t an easy task, and Safari only has a small market share today. This new release though defines itself by speed and feature set, and it’s a highly appealing package. If you haven’t tried Safari before, or if you’ve tried it but didn’t like it, give this version a shot.